Solar lamps have been instrumental in elevating living standards in areas with no access to electricity by providing them with a source of light after sunset. Especially in the conflict and natural disaster-ridden African countries, these lamps empower individuals and communities. At the recently concluded Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue, 2019, Renewable Watch got the opportunity to see “Little Sun”, a solar lamp that has been transforming lives across the planet.
According to Romane Guegan, press and communications manager, LittleSun GmbH, Little Sun is not only a solar lamp but also the first step towards a sustainable future. It means better education for children, improved health conditions and more financial stability. With the help of the Little Sun, children can study an hour longer per day on an average. The technology helps families save money as it reduces their dependence on expensive and harmful kerosene lamps. It also helps businesses stay open after sunset. Moreover, it provides a sustainable source of lighting that brings safety and security to refugees and displaced people in the affected areas. Further, the phone charging facility enables health workers to serve patients in remote communities. One Little Sun-powered solar lamp displaces around 400 kg of CO2, adds 1,200 hours of study time and saves around $200 per family in its lifetime, while ensuring better health for an average family.
Germany-based LittleSun GmbH is a social business launched in 2012 by an artist, Olafur Eliasson, and an engineer, Frederik Ottesen. Its portfolio has a range of rechargeable solar lanterns that include the iconic portable solar lamp, Little Sun Original, whose design was inspired by the meskel flower (Ethiopian national symbol for positivity and beauty). Another version of this is the Little Sun Diamond, a pocket–sized solar lamp. Both of these are capable of providing light for at least four hours on a five-hour solar recharge. The company also has Little Sun Charge that can charge phones and other devices, besides providing light. So far, Little Sun has delivered 838,308 units to people worldwide and 510,844 lamps off the grid, reaching 2.2 million people, of which over 20,000 are schoolchildren. Its network has 1,865 sales agents. The company has till now enabled savings of $48 million in kerosene substitution and reduced 182,041 tonnes of CO2.
Little Suns are sold at a higher price in regions with electricity access so that they can be sold in off-grid areas at more affordable prices. The company empowers communities by training local entrepreneurs to build profitable small businesses, creating jobs and developing educational programmes. In 2018, the Little Sun Foundation, an extension of the Little Sun social business, was launched. This not-for-profit organisation aims to bring light to the most vulnerable communities that are off the grid and beyond the reach of the usual entrepreneurial distribution models. These include remote schools, refugee camps and people affected by natural disasters. In April 2014, Little Sun received a ground-breaking $5 million impact investment loan from Bloomberg Philanthropies, making it possible to scale up Little Sun’s operations across the African continent.
In every country, Little Sun works with local partners, NGOs, governments and solar companies. In Burkina Faso, for example, the company works with BETA Sarl, which has been the distributor since 2014. It is a social enterprise distributing affordable quality solar products through a microcredit system. Since its launch in Ethiopia, Little Sun has been focusing on sub-Saharan countries, where around 625 million people do not have access to electricity. Globally, there are over 1.1 billion people living without access to energy, leading to deep disparities in income, education, and health outcomes.
According to Guegan, Little Sun wants to become a symbol for energy access and sustainability, as it makes solar energy tangible. Working towards raising awareness and tackling climate change is at the core of the company’s mission. Recently, the company gave a sneak peek into the first prototypes resulting from its collaboration with IKEA. SAMMANLÄNKAD is a series of new solar products that will contribute to sustainability and better lifestyles, independent of the electrical grid. Together with IKEA, Little Sun developed and designed a range of solar-powered light and energy solutions for both indoors and outdoors, including a charging dock, a solar panel that can harvest the power of the sun when hung on the window, and different structures to hang the lamp from the ceiling or place it on a table. Through this collaboration, Little Sun has the chance to maximise its reach, raise awareness and, at the same time, make renewable energy solutions available worldwide.